The Webcomicker

Who watches the watchmen?

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Only Webcomic You'll Ever Need (Review of Unfettered by Talent)

(Sheer hilarity from Unfettered by Talent)

Many of you probably know Eric Burns of Websnark fame. Burns has proven himself over the year (that's not a typo) to be the greatest webcomic critic in history. You know it, and I know it.

But it's not enough that the man provides consistently amazing commentary on his site all day, every day. He yearns to become a legitimate webcomic creator in his own right. And while he has made several mediocre attempts (Brigadier General John Starks, Gossamer Commons), nothing has really struck me as spectacular.

And then he mentioned Unfettered By Talent. Even just a look at the first strip in the archive (pictured above) was enough to tell me that this is Eric Burns' tour de force. I mean, WOW. "I can't wait to buy gum!" It works on so many levels. It's a clever gag. It's a means of mocking his own self-righteous writing style. It's a subtle (yet obvious) jab at today's microwave oven pop culture generation. It's an esoteric reference to the sonnets of the great romantic poet, John Keats. It's AMAZING.

And as you read through the archives, you really begin to understand why Burns chose to give this strip it's name, "Unfettered By Talent". It truly IS unfettered. Burns makes no qualms about rough, edgy drawings that may be considered kische by some pundits of the higher art circles. As such, he is able to break free even from the relatively open medium of webcomics and take the strip to even higher heights. Each strip is more dazzling than the last in its stark portrayal of the human condition, and yet each strip also shines as a beacon of wit and incisive criticism. You'll laugh. You'll cry. As you read through the archives Burns systematically breaks you down and then builds you back up again as a new man, an enlightened man, the "great man" commonly spoken of by such philosophers as Nietzsche and Sarte. This strip could even be considered the greatest piece of English literature ever composed.

EVERYONE needs to go read this strip, right now. And everyone needs to link it from their blogs and websites, or even put up a flyer in their local community center. Such a testament to genius cannot -WILL NOT- go unnoticed. It must be proclaimed everywhere.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

And also, Bunlop is about the cutest thing I've ever seen. (Review of Tweep)

(Playful banter from Tweep)

Ever wonder what would happen if you took a combination of Seinfeld and Friends, made the characters about 50% nicer to each other, and then threw in the cutest little bunny you've ever seen?

You'd get Tweep. Tweep is a really sweet strip about friends who care about each other, relationships that make sense, and, of course, The Rabbit Detective. And I've gotta say, I'm loving it. It's not as edgy as Questionable Content, it's not as funny as PvP. It's definitely not as dramatic and emotionally charged as Megatokyo. While all of those strips qualify as relationship strips, in them the relationships are the vehicle by which the purpose of the strip is delivered, be it humor or drama. In Tweep, the relationships ARE the strip, and any drama or comedy that arises is simply the result of natural interaction between the characters. When I read other storyline based comics, I feel like the author is specifically going somewhere, that they are pushing their characters with some ultimate goal in mind for the story. When I read Tweep, it feels more like Ben (the author and artist) is just a casual observer of the characters lives, and he's just drawing stuff as he sees them doing it. It's a great, laid-back feeling that almost gives a sense of coziness to the strip.

The premise of the strip is simple. Three friends, Milton, Jack, and Kate, who live together in a house. They've been friends since grade school, and, in Milton's own words: "We drift apart from time to time, but we always seem to end up back together." Milton is a struggling writer, Kate is a struggling artist, and Jack is a struggling programmer (which makes me wonder how they got the house... I suspect foul play!). In order to help pay the bills, Milton gets a job at the local coffee shop, where he meets Julie, an employee at the record store down the street. He and Julie hit it off pretty well, and now are beginning to date. Through Julie the whole gang also gets to meet Lily, another employee of the record store who is quite hyper and a big fan of the Rabbit Detective. She may also be interested in Jack (although nothing has happened yet). Oh, and there's also a rabbit named Bunlop who lives with Milton, Kate, and Jack. He belongs to Kate but seems to be friendly with all the characters, although he has been known to raise Jack's ire for chewing on computer cables.

Those are the main characters around which the story revolves, and much like Seinfeld or Friends, the actual story itself is really a sidenote to the relationships of the characters. They go through their days and engage in various adventures ranging from visiting the computer store to having lunch in the park to struggling to make blueberry muffin mix. They do the things that normal people would do, and they do them in normal ways. And it's absolutely brilliant. Because through it all, you see Ben (the author and artist, remember?) pulling out the humor in the mundane, the fun in the tedious, the silly in the average. It feels like you're hanging out with your own friends, with the people that make your life seem interesting and funny and silly even when it's not. And so you can relate to the characters, because, in a way, they are relating to you.

This is the sort of thing that could never make it on TV today. It's far too nice, with people being nice to each other and having fun without it being at other people's expense (ok, maybe the flash mob was a bit cruel, but hey, it probably helped the business a lot that day). And I'm glad there's a medium such as webcomics where a person can communicate a story like this.

Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, Bunlop is the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

*Yawn* Updates...

Man, I've really gotta start getting to bed earlier. This is like a two week streak I've got going here of going to bed after 5 AM, and here it is 5:50 and I've still got some reading to do before I hit the sack.

But anyways, on to the updates!
New webcomics archives finished:
Nowhere University

Tweep and Nowhere University get added to the checklist, but Wondermark doesn't make the cut (*shock!*). Reviews upcoming.

Also, amazingly, for the first time since I became interested in webcomics, my "To Be Read" list is completely empty! (Well, except for Melonpool, but everyone knows the story about that one already) I'm considering Ugly Hill and Wigu, but I'm certainly open to suggestions. If you've got a webcomic you'd like me to read, just comment here or shoot me an email and I'll read it and post a review right here on the site! No 18+ comics please, because I'm just not into that sort of thing (nothing bad on you if that's your thing, it's just not my thing, that's all)

I can't promise I'll generate a lot of traffic for your site by reviewing your comic (I doubt I get more than a few readers a day), but I can promise you a full and fair review. So hit me up.

Blank Label Comics Podcast

I've never been a huge fan of podcasts, much like I've never been a huge fan of blogs. Just like writing a blog gives you the illusion that you're a legitimate journalist of some kind, it seems that recording a podcast makes people believe they have a radio show. It's all pretty ridiculous.

What is a podcast, anyways? It's just an mp3 file attached to an RSS feed. Oooooh... makes me feel all warm and snuggly inside. But people seem to flock to these "new technologies" like raccoons to bright shiny objects, and who am I to pronounce myself the "enlightened raccoon" who is above all this? Besides, I attended the San Diego Comicon this year, and my favorite part of the con was attending the three panel discussions about webcomics, each of which were basically like the equivalent of a radio show anyways, so I figured, maybe a webcomics podcast could be interesting.

So I checked out the most recent Blank Label Comics Podcast. I did it the old fashioned way, mind you, by simply downloading it off their site rather than setting up Itunes or whatever to receive the files as the RSS feed updated, but whatever. It caught my eye because they were interviewing Eric Burns of Websnark, and although I know he's been interviewed before (Digital Strips comes to mind), I've never bothered to actually listen to it.

And I've gotta say, it was pretty interesting. Eric Burns in real life sounds nothing like I expected him to (but who does, you know? You always imagine people having much more animated voices than they typically do), and the actual content of the show was nothing I hadn't heard before from reading Websnark (he even included the obligatory bashing of poor old Fred at Megatokyo, which made me smile), but just hearing the "trade talk", so to speak, between people in the webcomics community who basically qualify as "professionals" was enough to hold my attention. It reminded me a lot of the panels at the Comicon and why I enjoyed them so much. It gives you some insight into what these people deal with on a day to day basis, especially what Burns deals with as a critical commentator of a relatively new medium. It certainly gave me some insight into what readers are looking for and how to get people interested in what you do.

So while I don't really plan on making podcasts a part of my everyday life, I do see the allure of them. I suppose if you subscribed to enough podcasts that were actually good about updating on a regular basis, you could almost feel as if you were attending conventions every week and getting a chance to hear from the artists. And we all know that conventions are a lot of fun.

So check it out.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Webcomic Hurricane Relief Book on sale!

The name of the post pretty much says it all. Go here to get it. I think this is something that everyone interested in webcomics should pick up. Not only is it the official documentation of the greatest event in webcomic history, but all the money raised from sales go to help Katrina (and probably Rita at this point) victims. It's a no lose situation. I've already placed my order.

And while I'm on the topic of ordering stuff, I went ahead and ordered myself up all the Melonpool books. It'll save me a lot of time in the long run, and 7 bucks a book really is a steal.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Character Development! Woohoo!

Faye finally opens up to her friends in Questionable Content

I've gotta say, I'm pretty psyched about Questionable Content after Friday's strip. It's been a long time since we've really seen character development from Jeph Jaques' crew, and I'm glad to see that Jaques has decided to stop sidequesting and advance the story somewhat.

Oooooh, I get to explain a lexical term! Yay! I've been waiting so long to add some lexicon to my site, just like Eric Burns has over at Websnark, but I always felt like anything I tried to do would be just a ripoff of Burn's work, and if there's something I can't stand, it's lowering myself to the level of "hack" by ripping off someone else. However, in this case I'm actually using a term that I use on a regular basis, and commonly apply to webcomics, which I haven't really seen used around much of anywhere else. So I'm adding it as the first entry of the official Webcomicker lexicon.

Sidequesting: When a comic that is primarily storyline driven (although it might be a humor comic, the humor is derived from, and dependent on, the storyline) has the characters become involved in plotlines which are unrelated to, or secondary to, the primary storyline. Of course, I've borrowed this term from RPG video games, in which a very frequent device used to lengthen the amount of time you can play the game is to offer some other quests aside from the primary quest your characters are undertaking. These "side quests" often have some incentive such as a special item or increased powers attached to them, and are in many cases more fun and satisfying than the main quest because you can complete them in a relatively short period of time and therefore get quick rewards on your efforts.

When a comic has a storyline driving it, and the characters are distracted by some other set of events which cause them to put aside their primary concerns and engage in somewhat different activities, I say that the comic is "sidequesting". This is different from a comic in which the characters undergo a series of unrelated quests that don't have any real driving storyline behind them. That's more of an episodic structure. But I'm talking about the comics where you can tell that they are definitely going somewhere, but they take some diversions along the way. Some comics are famous for their sidequesting. In fact, for some comics the sidequests are the favorite strips of the fans. RPG World was the master of sidequesting not only because the side plots were executed so masterfully but also because the characters KNEW that they were sidequesting because they were literally GOING ON SIDEQUESTS in the world of the strip, which was an RPG game.

But sidequesting can be taken too far. Some comics become embroiled in their sidequests and end up losing the original plot, and can never quite seem to pick it up again. Megatokyo is infamous for sidequesting, in fact, Eric Burns mentions it (in a roundabout way) as his main reason for not reading the strip anymore. So, as fun as it might be to throw your characters into bizarre and fun situations, if you're actually trying to develop a storyline and have your characters grow and mature along it, you've got to be careful not to sidequest too much.

Which brings me back around to the point of this post. Questionable Content has been side-questing for a few months now. We've seen Faye and Marten get a new apartment. We've seen a lot of development in the Raven character. We've met Marten's Mom (in some of Jeph's funniest work to date, actually. If you thought your family was odd, you've got nothing on poor Marten). And now, it looks like Jeph is ready to get back to the main storyline, at least for awhile, and progress things a bit. So we get Friday's strip, in which we see the first real advancement in Faye's character in quite awhile.

Sure, we all know Faye has a troubled past. It's been alluded to before and discussed on a very surface level. But we've never learned why Faye is so afraid to let people get close to her, why she can't just admit her feelings for Marten and enter into a serious relationship with him. And now, we're starting to see some illumination. She's still dodging around what actually happened -only revealing that it was "bad stuff"-, but she's willing to admit that she had a nervous breakdown, almost killed herself, and then went through hospital and therapy time. She's been running from her past, and it's worked out ok for her so far, but now she's starting to realize that if she ever wants to move forward into the future, she's going to have to actually deal with these issues. You can't settle down when you're on the run, and now that she's actually got the urge to settle down (she even bought herself a bed! Furniture is a major step toward settling into someplace), she's got to stop running a face her past. This is going to be a major cathartic moment for Faye coming up, and we can only hope that she'll be strong enough to get through it with the help of her friends. The upcoming dinner date with Marten and his Mom is going to have some serious emotional tensions swaying back and forth, and we'll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

And don't count out Marten's Mom as a potential major player in the healing process. Veronica Vance has skills beyond merely whipping people into submission, methinks.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Review: Fantasy Realms

(Running attack! From Fantasy Realms)

I'd like to preface this review by saying that Fantasy Realms, more than anything else that has happened so far, made the effect of Hurricane Katrina real to me. Sure, I've heard about the devastation. I've read about it. I've looked at pictures. I've even talked to people who had to flee. But it still all seemed so distant to me.

But if you go to the Fantasy Realms website right now, you'll see that the last newspost made was on August 29th, and contained these rather ominous words: "As you may have heard on the news, hurricane Katrina has grown into a category 4-5 storm. Due to the massive damage and other problems these can cause, Clay has been busy almost the whole week and may not be able to get online for an extended time.
We apologize for the lack of updates, but hope you understand the dilemma. Please hang in there."

Literally NOTHING has gone up on the site since then, and it's almost a month later now. And that made me realize, "Hey, Clay's house may be gone. He may be among the refugees moving from town to town. He may even be DEAD. Fantasy Realms may never update again because of this hurricane." And for some reason, that just made it all a little more real to me.

Now, before you get too worried, let it be known that I checked out the Fantasy Realms forums and found this cheerful post by Clay, dated September 11th: "Just reporting in for duty. I'm well enough and, surprisingly, so is the place I call home. I can't say as much for the rest of the Gulf Coast. It's a dismal and sobering atmosphere." But of course, hurricane Rite is headed his way now, so he'll probably be having to leave town again for another couple of weeks. I wish you good fortune, Clay.

Now, on to the review. Fantasy Realms is actually very similar in visual styling to Inverloch, which I reviewed earlier this week, except it seems to have more richness of color and detail in the backgrounds. In Inverloch, the backgrounds are just that: backgrounds. Backdrops on which the characters play out their scenes. Yes, that background artwork is very well done, but it doesn't permeate the scene. In Fantasy Realms, this is much different. It seems that the backdrop on which each scene is played out is given at least as much attention as the scene itself, resulting in a very visually rich comic to read. Rather than standing out as frames of animation as Inverloch does, each page of Fantasy Realms almost seems like the sort of special artwork that most people would only do for a poster or possibly a desktop background. Niko Geyer definitely has a gift in this regard.

As for the story itself, there's not much to be said about it yet. This comic is actually still in the "introducing the characters" phase of production, so it's a good time to start reading if you're interested. Clay chose to write it by beginning in the middle (or possibly even the end?) and then presenting the beginning in flashback format, which is a good way to hook readers in without them having to go through the long process of introducing all the characters and seeing how they got to know each other. The first chapter is nothing but action and extremely cool effects, which is enough to get anyone saying "this looks AWESOME!" Then the story immediately jumps back to the beginning in chapter two, and begins what is sure to be a nice long buildup back to the cliffhanger in chapter one. It makes me wish I'd taken the same approach with my writing in Gideon D. Ragon, rather than the linear progression which I chose, but you live and learn.

So we have some idea of where the story is going, but we're missing a lot of the pieces right now. We've seen who is presumably the villian in chapter one, but we don't know his name yet or what he's done. We've seen probably all the main characters but we don't know what's drawn them together. I'll be interested to see if the battle depicted in chapter one is the final confrontation, or if it is merely one step along the path. It should be interesting to see how things fall into place.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Talk Like a Pirate Day Roundup

Well, it was another successful National (er, International!) Talk Like a Pirate Day. My roommate and I went out in our pirate costumes and walked the town, provoking many an odd stare and more than one heartfelt "Arrrrr..." in response. I spent the majority of the time recounting my experiences raiding ships in the Carribbean, with various and changing explanations of how I'd received my various pirate wounds.

A quick round of my daily checklist showed the following.
Strips which included a reference to Talk Like a Pirate Day in the strip (either subtle or oblique):
Dandy and Company
Questionable Content
MiSTEam (based on actual events!)

Artists who mentioned Talk Like a Pirate Day in their newsposts:

That's pretty good coverage for a holiday that's only a decade old, and wasn't really introduced to the world proper until Dave Barry wrote a column in 2002 about the event. Quite frankly everyone should go read that column right now not only because it basically marked the official launch of the holiday, but also because it's way more funny than anything I could hope to write in a thousand years.

Until next time then. Pull anchor! There be treasure to be found on these briny seas!

Review: Inverloch

(Lei'ella and Varden test each other's limits in one of the more dramatic scenes from Inverloch)

This is the first of two reviews I'm going to be doing over the next few days about recent wecomics I've added to my checklist. In the interests of only providing useful content on this site, I'm not going to be posting any comprehensive start to finish reviews on any comics that I would consider to be "well-known", because all I'd really be doing at that point is adding one more flake of snow to the veritable blizzard of reviews that already exist for such comics. For those comics I'll post developments as they occur, but for comics that I feel I've "stumbled upon", which are probably lesser known, I'll post a more comprehensive review, so people can get an idea of if they'd be interested in checking it out or not.

That being said, I honestly can't remember how I found Inverloch. I'm assuming one of the other comics I read must have linked to it one day, or perhaps Sarah Ellerton took out an ad at a site I frequent, but I merely clicked onto the page one day and after skimming a couple of pages decided to add it to my "To Be Read" list. After awhile it came up in the -highly volatile- queue, and I read through the whole archive. Now it's on the checklist.

The thing that first struck me about Inverloch was the incredibly stunning visuals. When I look at each page, it looks to me like one of those Disney comic books where they translated one of their movies into book form by taking all the key animation frames from the movie and adding text bubbles on top of them. When I really got into a reading groove, sometimes I could almost see the characters moving from frame to frame, as if there were in-betweeners in my head furiously inking frames as I read. I swear, when Ms. Ellerton finishes her work, she could take all the pages from the book as is, fly up to Korea, plunk down 50,000 dollars or so, and come back with a movie. And I'd buy it. I'd even buy the normal AND the widescreen.

But enough gushing over the artwork. Inverloch is basically the tale of a young Da'kor (kind of a cross between a wolf and a cow) named Acheron, who is on a journey to find a missing elf named Kayn'dar. He's looking for Kayn'dar as a favor to an elven female that he loves, but who sadly does not return his love, named Shiara. Along his travels he's joined by a thief-catching elf named Lei'ella, a thief named Varden, and a young mage named Neirenn. Yes, as I'm sure you've all already guessed, the comic takes place in a fantasy setting. The plot is a bit formulaic: "A young, pure-hearted hero goes on a quest and through a series of seemingly random encounters builds a ragtag group of adventurers who accompany him and help him on his way." I'm sure we've all played plenty of old Squaresoft RPG games that followed basically that exact same structure, OVER and OVER again. But hey, I enjoyed all those games, didn't you? If it ain't broke...

The important thing for a comic with a fairly predictable plotline (I'm sure there will be some unexpected twists and turns near the end, but then, we're EXPECTING unexpected twists and turns, so are they really unexpected?) is to have a very strong cast of characters to keep things interesting as we watch them go through the motions. And I think Inverloch definitely has the potential for this. At the moment the team has only just been assembled, with Neirenn joining the group in the last chapter, so we'll have to see how the different personalities play off each other, if Sarah Ellerton is able to organically grow the relationship dynamics between the different characters without making it seem to forced.

We've already seen some interesting back and forth play between the thief and the thief catcher (as evidenced by the page I chose to highlight in this review) as they test each others limits both in morals and in skills. I'm sure that relationship will grow into something much more interesting before the story is through, and I'll be curious to see if it feels natural, or if Ms. Ellerton has to resort to deus ex machina, which would be the death of the strip.

Acheron is the classic young hero: innocent, naive, hopelessly optimistic, and cute beyond all reason. He will undergo a "coming of age" experience I'm sure, and won't return to his home the same as when he left. Will it be a realistic transition of his character from a boy to a man, or will it be just a stubborn assertion of his idealism?

We don't know much about Neirenn yet, so at the moment she's just a cardboard cutout of the "super-talented, overconfident person out to prove their mettle". Will she grow out of the mold into a well-rounded character, or will she remain a two dimensional plot device?

So many questions to be answered. But you know what? That's why I keep reading a comic. I want to know how it's going to turn out, for better or worse. I want to see how the questions in my mind are answered, where I feel the artist really did an amazing job and where I feel she copped out. Inverloch is a comic with an incredible amount of potential, and it's right at the turning point where the cast has been assembled and it's time to really flesh out all their characters and the relationships between them. And I'm excited to see what's coming next.

And I've got to say, it's a lot easier to get excited about what's coming up when you know that whatever it is, it will be illustrated in such a beautiful fashion. You've got me hooked, Sarah Ellerton. Let's see if you can reel me in.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Parting Thoughts on the Webcomic Hurricane Relief Telethon

Well, it's finally over. I didn't post an announcement on my site about the Hurricane Relief Telethon before it began, and I suppose I was remiss in not doing so, but my reasoning was that if someone was able to find my website, they've probably delved deeply enough into the world of webcomics that they'd assuredly already know about the Telethon.

First of all I'd like to give a hearty "way to go" to everyone involved in the organization of the event. If you're curious to see who all that was, just check the second-to-last page of the telethon. You guys did an amazing job setting up something in a very short period of time, and keeping it up and running despite what I'm sure was a much larger audience than you could have anticipated. Once the money from the auctions (some of which are still going on) gets added to the pot, I'm sure the total will easily eclipse the 30,000 dollar mark, and that's astounding for an event that was just sort of thrown together over the course of a week or so.

But I think it's important to look at the effects of an event of this magnitude beyond merely its short term goal of raising money for charity, because it really stands out in my mind as a major event in the history of webcomics, one which we should remember for years to come.

First of all, this event showed the incredible advantage that webcomics have in terms of timeliness. If you wanted to organize an event like this in a newspaper, you'd have to get in contact with all the syndicates, have the syndicates contact the artists, then get all the legal red tape out of the way, and since pretty much all syndicated cartoonists work with a two week buffer, you'd probably have to wait at least two weeks to give all the newspapers time to clear through the strips they've already received and get all the telethon strips in order. It would be a HUGE ordeal. Now, from what I've heard organizing this telethon was no picnic either, but it pales in comparison to what would be involved in organizing a newspaper strips version of this. This has of course always been one of the advantages of webcomics, but I think it really showed itself in this event.

Secondly, and more importantly, this telethon was, in my opinion, the first truly shared experience that the webcomic community has had. Sure there have been smaller instances of shared experiences. The current fad of guilding on World of Warcraft started by Penny Arcade and PvP and picked up by a few other comics has created something of a shared online community among fans of various different comics which has brought some different fanbases together, but even that is only a shared community among at most about 10 strips and only those fans of the strips which play World of Warcraft. This event brought together fans from over 300 different strips, both online and not, with no particular care for any other interests they may have. It brought together fans of strips with different political views, very different genres, and different levels of popularity. I think it's all pretty well summed up in the Sheldon strip which was used to end the telethon. I can't think of a better ending to the event than that strip.

This is the sort of event that Scott McCloud has been pining for for years, and I don't think he even had a strip in it! The man whose name has become synonymous with the term webcomic wasn't even involved in the biggest event in webcomic history (I think. I may have missed it.). In fact, basically NONE of the heaviest hitters were there. Yeah, Scott Kurtz did an auction, but it was of an old strip he drew. None of his art appeared in the telethon itself. Penny Arcade wasn't there (although they did raise money on their own). Megatokyo wasn't there. I also didn't see User Friendly or Sluggy Freelance. Again I may have missed them, but I was pretty diligent about reading every strip, so I don't think so. And you know what? While their contributions may have driven a bit more traffic to the site and increased the amount of money the telethon was able to generate, I'm GLAD they weren't there. Many people for the first time got to see that there is a rich world of webcomics beyond merely the "100,000 hits a day" club. There are literally hundreds of quality authors and artists who pour their soul into little known strips, toiling in relative obscurity for years, and this was their chance to shine. It's fitting that it would be the middle tier and lower webcomics who were responsible for an event such as this because it shows that there's more to webcomics than just a few superstars. This was a true grassroots effort, and it turned into something phenomenal.

I'm definitely going to be buying the book of all the collected works for the telethon. Mark my words, people will look back on this event a decade from now and say, "That was a turning point for webcomics. That was the day they proved what they were capable of. That was the day they opened the eyes of many people to their richness and vastness. That was the day many people realized that they could find a comic which they truly ENJOYED, as opposed to simply a comic which could make them chuckle on occasion." And I want a permanent record of this event.

Now I just wish I'd submitted a comic for inclusion. Damn.


Updates! I reorganized the links to Webcomics I read into alphabetical order. Before they were in kind of a freeform "how often it updates" order, which I think confused a lot of people. Also, I've added some more links to reflect comics whose archives I've finished and am following on a consistent basis now:
Elf Only Inn
Fantasy Realms
Mac Hall
I'll post reviews of the lesser known ones (I'm thinking Fantasy Realms and Inverloch) sometime soon, so you guys know what the deal is with them.

Next on the list of archives to read is Melonpool. I think I'll probably be on that one for awhile. Maybe I should just buy all his books, they're cheap and you can read a book a lot faster than clicking through an online archive, what with the load times and all.

Also added to the side are links to the new WebcomicWiki, which you should check out because it's rapidly becoming more complete and more thorough than the Wikipedia, and Phil Kahn's very nice commentary site, I'm just saying. Damn you, Phil Kahn! You're drawing me ever more into the world of bloggers, and it's a world I don't want to join!

Webcomickry: The joy of finding your pen.

A serious amount of screwing around from MiSTEam
If you've looked at the links on the side of the page, you'll notice that under the list of webcomics I read is a very short list (2) of webcomics that I "do". One of these is my serious project, a detective story in manga format which I only do the story for: Gideon D. Ragon, Private Eye. The other one, MiSTEam, is a much sillier comic that I use mainly for the purpose of goofing around.
First, a brief background on MiSTEam itself. One of my real jobs in the world is to do tech support and web design for one of the offices at the University of Illinois, the Office of Math, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE). We have a website which has quite a bit of useful content on it both for math and science teachers and math and science students. But it was kind of old and crappy looking. So me and my tech partner were assigned the task of updating the look and feel of the site and also adding a lot of functionality (such as posting news, managing the various classes the office oversees, having an event calendar, etc etc ad naseum). So he and I began brainstorming ways to encourage visitors to keep coming to the site on a consistent basis, so that they could see all the new features and content as we put them in place. Of course, I remembered my obsession with webcomics and how it keeps me visiting the artists' pages every day, without fail. So I thought it would be a great idea if the office had its own webcomic.
Well, since it was my idea, it fell onto me to be the author and artist of the comic. So I figured it would be even better at connecting visitors to the site if the comic was about the MSTE Office itself. And thus MiSTEam was born. Fortunately, the work environment at MSTE is pretty laid back, and lots of crazy stuff does happen at the office, so it makes it easy to come up with ideas. In fact, many of the comics are direct transliterations of actual events. So it's been a lot of fun, and the people at the office at least seem to enjoy reading the comics, so I consider that to be an accomplishment.
By far the most interesting experience I've had in my short experience drawing a webcomic is trying to learn the tricks of the trade. At first, I basically knew nothing. The first few comics were drawn in pencil, then inked over with a simple BIC ballpoint pen, scanned in, and given an increased contrast to try to make the lines stand out, which is why they came out looking something like this. Also, you can tell I'd had very little practice drawing the characters, as for awhile they look fairly different in basically every panel I drew.
Well, eventually I got a better pen (I seem to have misplaced it now, it was kind like one of those ultra fine point Sharpies, with the super thin point tip) and I got better at touching up the comic after scanning it in to get rid of old pencil marks and whatnot, and the comic began to look a bit better.
Then, looking at a lot of the strips around the net, I saw that most of the black and white ones were using much thicker black lines than I was, so I figured, "Hey, they must actually be using some kind of marker to make their comics!" So I tried a strip with a fine point marker.
And then, finally revelation came to me. It came from Starslip Crisis (which is quickly becoming a personal favorite of mine), when I looked to see how Kristopher Straub created his comic. After all, aside from the backgrounds his comic is at least similar in style to mine. So I stumbled onto this page, and suddenly my eyes were opened.
Oh sure, I'd heard of the "paper doll" comic before, but I'd always assumed that meant something along the lines of old school Elf Only Inn, with basic images manipulated in various ways to achieve some semblance of a contiguous storyline. I never imagined it could be used to create such a richly varied strip as Starslip Crisis. And so I decided to convert my strip over to vector art, in paper doll format, in hopes that it would not only make my art look better but also make it easier to create a strip on a weekly basis, which I have trouble doing. And you can see the results at the top of the page. I didn't use Flash like Kris Straub does (that program confuses the heck out of me), but I did use Macromedia Fireworks, which is a program I have a little bit of experience with.
I've got to say, I'm pretty excited about the new world of possibilities this opens to me, and you can tell by the strip up there. I was basically screwing around with the vector characters, and then I decided that the screwing around in itself would make a pretty good strip. I love the last panel especially, where I comment that it has an "art deco" feel, which is humorous to me because I have no idea what art deco even MEANS, much less if that style of painting is even remotely close to what something art deco would look like.
I don't think I'll be doing MiSTEam in color in general (there's something about that black and white line art that just appeals to me), but it's nice to know that if I ever wanted to, I could, with a minimum of effort. And that's pretty darn cool.
I've found my pen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Because it's true.

Hitting the nail on the head from a very old Mac Hall
As a relative late-comer to the world of webcomics (I've only been seriously into them for about a year and a half now), I spend a great deal of my time reading archives. This is a bit of my anal-retentiveness showing itself, I just can't stand to not read the entire story. Your website may have the greatest summary page in the world, but I'll still go back and read every single strip, guest strip, side-story, special page, etc that is on the site. I've just got to know it all.
So, yeah, I spend a lot of my time reading archives, and in many cases the length of the archive alone is enough to keep me away from a site for awhile. I'm still avoiding Melonpool, which from the few strips I've read is obviously a comic I would enjoy, because it's archive is HUGE. I'll get around to it some weekend, though.
And that brings me to this post. I'm currently reading through the archive of Mac Hall, a comic I've been putting off reading for far too long. So far, it seems like Mac Hall is kind of like a combination of Applegeeks and Ctrl-Alt-Del: Similar in both pacing and art style to Applegeeks but more of a "gamers living together" theme of Ctrl-Alt-Del. And I can definitely see why people like it. While there is a vague sense of continuity, each strip stands on its own.
But that's not the real reason for this post. The real reason for this post is the strip I just read, a small snippet of which I included at the top of this post (click on the picture of Fred about to disembowel himself to see the whole comic). I think most of you will recognize the man in the strip as Fred Gallagher from Megatokyo. This strip really made me laugh, because it captures Fred's personality so perfectly. In just about every other blog post he writes he's talking about how he's not happy with what he drew, or the story's not progressing as he would like it to, or he's apologizing for yet another Dead Piro Day. I could just see myself attending a con and going to a Megatokyo panel only to see poor Fred try to kill himself in some fashion or other, as recompense for all the trauma he's put us poor deluded Megatokyo fans through. And that's what makes this strip so funny, it seems so ludicrous and yet so plausible at the same time.
Way to go, Matt and Ian. Sorry this pat on the back for a job well done is coming about 4 years too late. Ah, well.